Well tonight makes, I think, about twenty-four weeks in Psalm 119. Even though there are only twenty-two sections you’ll remember that one Lord’s Day Evening we read through the entire psalm in one sitting, something that I don’t think I’ve ever heard anywhere else but here at First Presbyterian Church. And then we did sort of a one message overview of the entire psalm and then for the last number of weeks, over a period of time, we’ve been working through section by section. And so tonight we come to the final letter in the outline of this alphabet psalm, Psalm 119 verses 169 to 176. And again, a theme that we have mentioned repeatedly has been “Living by the Book.” Our study has been called, “Not by Bread Alone,” referring to that passage that Jesus quotes from Moses’ words in Deuteronomy reminding us of the importance of the Word of God for the living of the Christian life and that’s certainly an appropriate title for this psalm because the psalmist has over and over professed how much he loves the Word of God, how much he wants to know the Word of God, how much he studies the Word of God, and how he wants to live by the Word of God. He even prays for God to assist him to do so. And tonight, again, the psalmist is going to have things to teach us about how to live the Christian life by the book. And together I want us to look at five things that the psalmist teaches us – one about prayer, two about distress, three about joy, four about the Law, and five about straying. Before we read God’s Word let’s look to Him in prayer and ask for His help and blessing.
Heavenly Father, You have been so faithful to walk with us through Your Book, Lord’s Day Evening after Lord’s Day Evening, oftentimes applying things to our hearts that no preacher could have anticipated as the application work of Your Holy Spirit, oftentimes encouraging us, comforting us, convicting us. Do this again tonight. Meet us in Your Word, for every word of Scripture is breathed out by You and is profitable. And so by Your Spirit, make this profitable Word profit our souls, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
This is God’s Word. Hear it in Psalm 119 beginning in verse 169:
“Let my cry come before you, O LORD; give me understanding according to your word. Let my plea come before you; deliver me according to your word. My lips will pour forth praise, for you teach me your statutes. My tongue will sing of your word, for all your commandments are right. Let your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your precepts. I long for your salvation, O LORD, and your law is my delight. Let my soul live and praise you, and let your rules help me. I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Well, here we are at the end of Psalm 119 and it’s perhaps appropriate that I’m losing my voice. Only the work of Bill Sneed, I think, has enabled me to fight through my annual bout with sinuses this year and I hope in the time together tonight I’ll continue to be able to speak until the end of this brief message. The psalmist is teaching us once again about how to live the life of faith. And I want us to see five things in this passage.
The Psalmist’s Prayer
The first thing that I want you to see is emphasized in the first part of the psalm. Don Carson and company in the New Bible Dictionary say that you could really divide this psalm, this section of the psalm into two parts. They say you could say 169 to 172 is, “Lord, hear me,” and then verses 173 to 176 is, “Lord, act for me.” In other words, the first part of this section of Psalm 119 is a plea for the Lord to hear the psalmist’s prayer. The second part is a plea for the Lord to go into action for him. And that’s very appropriate because this prayer, like so many of the other sections, or this psalm, like so many of the other sections that we’ve studied, begins with a prayer. “Let my cry come before you…let my plea come before you.” Living by the Book means living by prayer. Living by the Book isn’t a mechanistic thing where we sort of take two Scriptures and call the preacher in the morning. It’s a matter of listening intently to what the Scriptures teach us about the whole range of the Christian life.
I. What this Psalm Teaches Us About Prayer
And one of the things that the Word teaches us is about prayer. William Plumer says that “good men are often so situated that the only resource left to them is prayer.” Have you been put into situations like that repeatedly in your life where the only thing you could do about your circumstance was pray? There was literally nothing left that you could do about it; you had to completely leave it in the Lord’s hand. Well God often designs for us to be precisely in that circumstance so that we will lean on Him and the resource of prayer. Plumber goes on to say very interestingly that prayer is never produced in our hearts because of the difficulty of our circumstances, but the Holy Spirit working in the difficulty of our circumstances sanctifies those circumstances to our spiritual resort to prayer. Here is what Plumer says. “Prayer is never performed aright as to be answered until we are taught by the Holy Spirit” and he points us to Romans chapter 8 verse 26. And then he says this, “Distress is a natural means of stirring us up to prayer only when sanctified to us by the Holy Spirit.”
And you know what immediately popped into my mind was one of the hymns that we love to sing, “How Firm A Foundation.” And do you remember one of the stanzas in that hymn we sing to the Lord, “Sanctify to us our deepest distress”? Have you ever wondered what you were saying when you sang that part of the song, “Sanctify to us our deepest distress?” Well, you were saying and singing and I trust praying exactly what Plumber was saying about prayer. Distress, in and of itself, does not create in us a spirit of prayer, but the Holy Spirit will sanctify our distress to us so that we resort to dependence upon God in prayer. So when you sing in “How Firm A Foundation,” “Sanctify to us our deepest distress,” you’re saying, “Lord, by Your Spirit, make even our deepest distress and our darkest dangers, by the work of the Holy Spirit, grow us in grace and prayer.” And so the psalmist is once again reminding us that living by the Book means living by prayer. “Let my cry come before you, O LORD; let my plea come before you.”
II. What this Psalm Teaches Us About Distress
Now the second thing that I want you to see also comes out of these two verses because for the umpteenth time we meet the psalmist in this passage in distress. And this reminds us that living by the Book does not exempt us from distress and danger. Listen to the psalmist’s words. “Let my cry come before you, O LORD; let my plea come before you. Deliver me.” Once again, the psalmist is in a circumstance where he needs to be delivered from danger and distress. It is not because he’s not been studying God’s Word; he has. But studying God’s Word does not mean that he does not encounter distress in his life. In fact, his study of God’s Word is designed to equip him for when he encounters distress in the Christian life. So it’s so important for us to understand that when we say, “Live by the Book,” that living by the Book does not exempt us from distress and danger; it prepares us for that. It teaches us how to respond when we’re there but it does not alleviate our need to depend upon God.
III. What this Psalm Teaches Us About Joy
Third, and I want you to see this especially in verses 171, 172, and again in 175, living by the Book means living a life of joy and praise. Listen to what the psalmist says. 171 – “My lips will pour forth praise. My tongue will sing of Your word.” Then again in 175 – “Let my soul live and praise You.” The Christian life is a life of joy and praise. And the psalmist moved, not only by God’s deliverance but by God’s Word, pours forth praise to God. God has made us to be glad in Him. And one of the ways that we witness to His grace in our lives is we live lives of joy and praise. I was thinking this afternoon on one of my favorite renderings of Psalm 23. It’s Isaac Watts’ metrical rendering, “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need.” And you remember when he says, “And let Thy house be my abode and all my work be praise”? He’s picturing what it will be like to be finally home with God forever. And he just wants his dwelling place to be where his Shepherd-King’s dwelling place is and he wants his one work to be to praise Him. Well our hearts and lips should be filled with praise here.
There is enough sorrow in all of our lives that we could, if we let ourselves, cry for the rest of our lives. And if we let ourselves do that, we would not be living up to the joy that is and ought to be in our hearts because of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. The joy and praise that we are called to live out and express does not mean that hard things are absent from our life. It means that God’s grace is present in our life and the greatest problem that we have ever faced has been dealt with. So much of our time we look at problems and are overwhelmed by them and we often respond to being overwhelmed by those problems with fear and bitterness and anger and anguish and despair and sorrow. But the biggest problem we ever faced was the consequence of our enmity with God and God Himself has taken that away at the expense of His own Son. Stefan talked about it tonight. And because of that, there should be joy and praise in our hearts and lives no matter what else is going on. No matter what really hard things are going on, we as Christians ought to be living a life of joy and praise. That’s what living by the Book means. It means a life of joy and praise.
Do you think people out there get that about us? Is that something they would say about the saints at First Presbyterian Church? If it’s not, I think we have an area where we can pray for the Lord to more obviously manifest in us our joy in the Lord, that the Lord would not let us be so overburdened by the anxieties and cares of this world, that the joy that He has put in our hearts by work of the Holy Spirit through the grace of Jesus Christ would not fail to radiate in our relationships with others. Living by the Book means a life of joy and praise.
IV. What this Psalm Teaches Us About the Law
Fourth, if you’ll look at verses 174 and 175, notice the psalmist’s attitude to the Law. “Your law is my delight.” And then this favorite phrase of mine. “Let your rules help me.” Now we live in a day and age where many people just don’t like rules and it is celebrated in advertisements and it’s celebrated in pop culture. My family and I went to see the latest Disney princess movie a few days ago and to enjoy the mellifluous voice of Idina Menzel and we observed to one another as we were walking out that Idina Menzel is playing the same character that she played in Wicked in this movie. Once again she’s someone who is going to break the rules; the rules aren’t for her! And there’s a celebration of how nobody’s going to bind her by their rules. You turn on the ads for Outback Steakhouse you’re met with the promise that there are “No Rules. Just Right.” Although don’t try walking out without paying; I think that rule will be enforced! What is it, in our culture? We don’t like rules.
Well the psalmist says, “Your rules help me. They don’t rain on my parade. They don’t ruin my life. They don’t cramp my style. They help me.” Law-phobia, rule-phobia is a sign of deficient piety and a sign that one has not yet drunk deeply at the wells of God’s grace and does not know yet the Father’s loving purposes for good stored up in the commandments of His Word. And it is those who have made friends with God by grace who realize that the Law is no longer their accuser but their friend. The Law is there to help them. It’s a rule of life, not a curse of death. And the psalmist reminds us of that there. Living by the Book means maturing beyond an antinomian spirit that hates commands and rules because these commands are meant to bless us.
V. What this Psalm Teaches Us About Straying
And then there’s one last thing that I want you to see in this section and you’ll see it in the very final verse of this psalm. And isn’t it appropriate that when you get to the very last verse of an entire psalm that has been devoted to the glory of God’s Word and in which we have met repeated expressions of the psalmist’s determination to obey God’s Word that we have a prayer on the part of the psalmist for what he wants God to do when he doesn’t. “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.” You see, Living by the Book means not only treasuring God’s Word and studying God’s Word and praying God’s Word and being guided by God’s Word, living by the Book means a humble, repentant, dependent spirit that recognizes that we will still need the Lord’s rescue. Loving and studying the Word attentively does not mean that we will never stray in our Christian lives or that we will never need God’s rescue. In fact, our study of the Book teaches us to doubt the faithfulness of our hearts and trust the faithfulness of our Shepherd. And the psalmist, precisely because his nose has been in the Book, ends with a prayer. “Lord, when I stray, and I know I will, because I really believe this Book, I want to ask You this one thing. Come after me like a lost sheep. Don’t leave me to my own devices and desires. Come rescue me because I’ll need You.”
Bearing with and Forgiving the Straying of Others
And my friends, if we’re honest, we all know that we are in places like that from time to time where the only hope for us is the Lord’s rescue. But it should also remind us, my friends, that even beloved Christian friends of ours will be in places with perhaps different sins from our own in which they are straying. And isn’t it interesting how we can tend to be patient with ourselves in our own sins and impatient with other Christians in different sins? Philip Yancey once provocatively said, “If you want to get Christians angry, put them around other people sinning differently from them.” Ouch. We can want to cry out that the Lord will rescue us when we go astray, but do we forgive when we see others going astray differently from us? Are our hearts as concerned for their restoration as we are for our own?
C. S. Lewis, in his book, The Weight of Glory, says this:
“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you. This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single great injury but to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life, to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son. How can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say our prayers each night, ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse this is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves.”
Oh, my friends, you know in your heart that you will need God to rescue you when you stray and you rightly pray that He will. Pray that for others sinning differently from you, even if it’s you that they’ve sinned against. This is a mark of grace and this is something that we need. And so we come to the conclusion of our study of this psalm. May God make us all to Live by the Book. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for this psalm and we thank You for your Book. In it are the words of life. We do not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from Your mouth. Make this to be more than speech but heart, grace-wrought reality, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Would you stand for God’s blessing?
Peace be to the brethren and love with faith from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, until the daybreak and the shadows flee away. Amen.